Sermon
February 10, 2002
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
Write to Rev. Moran

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Scripture Readings

Exodus 24:12-18 The LORD said to Moses, "Come up to me on the mountain, and
wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the
commandment, which I have written for their instruction."
13 So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the
mountain of God.
14 To the elders he had said, "Wait here for us, until we come to you again;
for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them."
15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain.
16 The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it
for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud.
17 Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on
the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel.
18 Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the
mountain for forty days and forty nights.
(NRSV)

Matthew 17:1-9 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his
brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.
2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and
his clothes became dazzling white.
3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.
4 Then Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you
wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one
for Elijah."
5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them,
and from the cloud a voice said, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am
well pleased; listen to him!"
6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome
by fear.
7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Get up and do not be afraid."
8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, "Tell no one
about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."
(NRSV)

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Sermon: Second Birth

This morning I'd like to consider the question, what shapes our adult lives?
Two Sundays ago I brought this yoke into church as part of a reflection on
the passage where Jesus says: Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for
I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For
my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

In some ways this sermon is a continuation of that theme.

When you see a yoke you see a real tool of labor.  But in the ancient world
it was also a symbol of learning, of the relationship between the teacher
and the student.  And if Christ were just a teacher, the yoke would be
simply about learning the lessons the teacher has to teach.  But Christ - as
those first disciples who got a glimpse of his glory would learn - Christ
was more than a teacher.

From the song of the angels to the transfiguration on the mountain to the
cross on Golgotha and the empty tomb in the garden, all signs point to the
divine purpose and power revealed in this man of Nazareth. All signs point
to the fact that Christ came to do a redemptive work, to make real a saving
grace, to resist evil, to accomplish justice, to make known the glory of
God, and to offer all the sons and daughters of God newness of life: "born
to raise us from the earth, born to give us second birth."

And so bearing His yoke involves more than simply what we know, what we
believe - it involves what we do, how we live our lives, what we make our
time and talents count for.  And even more, it involves who we are, who we
allow ourselves to become, how we, with God's help, renew ourselves and our
community and create a future that incorporate this divine purpose and power
and so becomes more than simply a sum of all the painful consequences of our
human past.

Bearing the yoke of Christ is allowing Christ to shape us through all the
changes of our adult lives.   It means allowing the influence of Christ, the
Holy Spirit, to order our lives, to be the light in which we evaluate all
our decisions, our choices, our values, what we hold onto and what we freely
let go.

There is another image that helps illustrate this, an image to compliment
the yoke.  It's just as ancient and just as graphic, although I admit I don'
t have a visual aide to help present it.  It is the image of the potter and
the clay.

Perhaps you remember this passage from the book of the prophet Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 18:1-6 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD:  "Come, go
down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear my words."
So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel.
The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he
reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.
Then the word of the LORD came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of
Israel, just as this potter has done? says the LORD. Just like the clay in
the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

What might be perceived as a threat in the words of Jeremiah is earnestly
sought after as a promise in the words of the devotional hymn, Have Thine
Own Way, Lord:

Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way!
Thou art the potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after thy will,
while I am waiting, yielded and still.

How do we accept the Yoke of Christ, how do we invite the hand of Christ to
shape our lives as the potter shapes the clay?

One of the fundamental and most traditional ways believers have done this is
through their worship, and let me mention three different ways in which this
can take place.

First, by gathering for worship each Sunday morning the believer
commemorates the resurrection of Christ and honors the commandment to
remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.

Second, through the annual holidays and seasons of worship the believers
relive, in a sense, the life of Christ throughout the course of each year.

Third, through the various parts of each Sunday's worship the believers
practice receiving the word of God and responding by offering their gifts,
their prayers, their praise, and their lives.

The key element to this whole process is that the believer is allowing the
patterns, the themes, the dynamics of worship to shape their lives - to fit
their lives to their worship, which is quite different from fitting worship
in to their lives.

Worship is very much in the news these days.  The papers have been full of
articles about new translations of the Bible, new forms of worship, new
church music.  There is much talk about making worship more relevant and
attractive to people who are turned off by traditional church.

I've been fortunate to do some traveling and experience some vastly
different forms of worship - from a high mass at the Vatican to a Russian
Orthodox liturgy in Leningrad to a Sunday morning Baptist Youth Service in
Danbury.  It's easy to see that there are many ways to worship God and none
can really lay claim to being "the one true way."

But in this discussion of new forms of worship I worry that sometimes the
tail is wagging the dog - the wrong questions dominate the dialogue, for
even more fundamental than style and structure, we must first ask about the
purpose of worship and the role of the worshipper.  Is worship something we
give or something we get?

Isn't the challenge to make our worship an act of giving and to at least
have this one time in the week where we focus not on our selves and what "we
get out of it" but focus on giving back to God our reverence, loyalty,
respect, thanks and dedication to works of mercy and justice.

Is the worshipper the audience for a performance of a preacher, a choir, a
band, a multi-media presentation, or is God the audience for an offering of
praise from the worshipper?

There will always be room in the life of the church for many styles of music
and means of communication, for contemporary and traditional services - that
is just an issue of the outward form.  But unless worship has the inner
quality of offering ourselves to God, it becomes one more moment of
 "getting" in a world that desperately needs "giving."

This Wednesday we begin the season of Lent, the forty days before the
remembrance of our Lord's giving of himself in his passion and death.  In
this time we relive the forty days Christ spent in the wilderness, when he
was sorely tempted to shape his adult life by criteria other than
faithfulness to his calling as God's beloved child - the Lamb of God who
would take away the sins of the world.

As we relive this time of temptation, we reflect on our own calling, our own
future, our own direction, decisions, and influences that shape our lives.
Lent is a time of opportunity to focus with greater intensity on what it
means to take the yoke of Christ upon us, what it means to invite the hand
of God to shape and mould us, what it means to give ourselves to God in
praise and discipleship.

Lent is a time when it is critical that we get it right - we're not here to
fit God into our life, but to fit our lives to God's revelation in Christ
and to God's service.

Lent can be for us a time of transformation, transfiguration, new life,
second birth, but only if we bear the yoke and allow the hand of God to
mould us like the potter moulds the clay.  Then all the power that created
the glory of the heavens and the beauty of the earth, all the power that
pushes and pulls each breath, each beat of our hearts, all that divine power
of God will free us from the pain of the past and shape us by the hope of
future glory, the glory we know in Christ, a glory full of grace and truth
and life everlasting.  Amen


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